Jackson County will have a new assessor starting Jan. 1.
The county Conference Board Thursday night appointed Larry “Buck” Koos of LaMotte to fill the upcoming assessor vacancy. Dixie Lee Karabin, who has worked in the office for 11 years, retires effective Dec. 31 after three years as assessor.
The assessor and staff put a value on all property in the county for taxing purposes.
Each school district, supervisor and mayor in Jackson County serves on the Conference Board. Each member votes; however, the three groups have one collective vote for a total of three votes.
School board members voted unanimously to appoint Koos, while the mayors voted 6-4 to appoint him. The supervisors’ vote did not count because Larry McDevitt voted in favor, Mike Steines against, and Jack Willey abstained.
The county Examining Board received two applications for the job, one from Koos and one other person who was not named. The Examining Board obtains the Iowa Department of Revenue’s list of all people who are eligible to be appointed assessor, contacts those who qualify, accepts applications, and makes a final hiring recommendation to the Conference Board.
The unnamed applicant was not eligible, according to Examining Board Chairman Troy Patzner, who was Jackson County assessor for about a year before taking a deputy assessor job in Dubuque. The board recommended appointing Koos.
More training, pay discussed
Koos, who is now the chief deputy in the Assessor’s Office, has worked there for two years. He was hired shortly after losing a re-election bid for supervisor to Steines.
Koos has a provisional certificate, which means he has passed much of the training required to become an assessor. He will have 18 months to complete the remaining training requirements.
“He’s been doing assessments for six months and he’s been heavily trained,” Karabin said, adding that she’s been teaching him the job and showing him resources to assist with the job. “He’s passed every class he’s [taken].”
Because he has not met all the requirements, the state will review his performance quarterly. Also, when he conducts appraisals, a state official will accompany him to ensure an accurate result.
Having the state as a watchdog for Koos’ first 18 months appealed to Maquoketa Mayor Don Schwenker.
“None of us here have the knowledge,” Schwenker said of he and fellow board members. “The state is watching him and they have the knowledge [to help Koos]. We don’t have the knowledge.”
McDevitt agreed. During next year’s budgeting process, McDevitt said he wants to allot some money to hire temporary trainers for the Assessor’s Office.
Why? Because as of Jan. 1, the Assessor’s Office will have a staff of two people, including Koos. The office is at full staff with the assessor and four employees. Three resigned this year and Karabin will be retired.
“How will a staff of two hire and train a staff of three?” McDevitt asked.
Steines wanted to re-start the assessor search. He said the state-mandated timeframe for appointing an assessor was too narrow, especially with Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s thrown into it.
“I feel like there was not enough time,” he said.
Karabin countered that the job typically reels in few applicants, usually one or two.
“I honestly don’t believe you’ll get any more applicants,” Karabin said. She later added that “a lot of people simply don’t want this job. … There is a lot of stress. … This job is for someone with thick skin and broad shoulders” because of the overtime and upset property owners.
Patzner added that there are five assessor jobs open in Iowa right now. He said he talked to a representative in Iowa County, where there is a vacancy, and that county received only two applications.
Willey believes the nominal pay of the assessor and staff deters applicants and sends employees looking elsewhere for better pay.
“We have constantly refused to raise the salary of the assessor,” Willey said. And the county has “had assistants come in and had a lot of training we paid for and now Scott and Dubuque counties are reaping the benefits.”
“We have turned into a training ground,” Karabin agreed. “We don’t get the applicants who are experienced. We have to grow them.”
The Conference Board, which approves the assessor’s salary and the office budget, must consider increasing the assessor’s salary in the future if it hopes to retain employees, Willey said. He added that the office seems to have a higher staff turnover rate than other offices in the courthouse.
Becki Chapin, deputy county auditor and human resources person, said other courthouse offices typically receive 30 to 40 applications when a job opens.
Koos will officially start his new job Jan. 2 when the courthouse opens for the new year. He will serve the remaining three years of Karabin’s six-year term.